TL;DR - I bought this game over the weekend and I'm having an absolute blast with it. If you're into post-zombie apocalypse settings and open world games, and you've got $20 to spend I think it's well worth the money.
On with my first impressions.
You start off near a boat launch with a couple of people that just returned from a fishing trip. While they were away the world went to hell and that's pretty much all the back-story you get. That's all I've come across so far anyway. I'm okay with that though because the more interesting story is how these people deal with it. As you interact with the survivors in your community and other communities you get a sense of how each person copes with the end of the world. Just as in real life there are many types of personalities represented and you have to deal with them, good or bad.
There's a lot more to deal with as well. Scavenging for supplies, locating survivors, securing a place to live, trying to keep morale up... the list goes on. And it's relentless. There's always something that needs your attention and there's just no way you're going to get to everything so it becomes a matter of priorities. Having to prioritize is a good thing for sure, but there's a feeling that you as the player has to do absolutely everything. I think a system like what's in Assassin's Creed that allowed you to assign some of these things to other survivors in your community would definitely help create a sense of teamwork, of people working together to survive.
The game doesn't do much to educate you on how to play other than some on-screen tips here and there, but thankfully the UI is really well done. Everything from an activity log, skill and item descriptions, the functions of your home base, right down to personality traits and what they mean - it's all there. Take the time to go through the menus and read the information presented and you'll be fine.
The intricacies of the game, the strategy of survival, is left completely up to you to discover however. Prioritizing tasks, where to establish outposts, resolving personal conflicts, deciding when and where to move your home base - all that kind of stuff is left to you to decide. At first I thought some more information would have been nice as I kind of felt like I was the blind leading the blind. Then I realized that these people are learning to survive just as I am. After that realization I'm glad Undead Labs didn't provide more information. That feeling of not knowing what to do is exactly the feeling you should be having after the end of the world.
I'm not usually a fan of permadeath, but in this game I think it's critical to the vibe Undead Labs has created here. The autosave system (which saves very frequently) combined with permadeath creates some intense moments. Long story short I had gotten in over my head with Marcus, my only skilled survivor, and one of two I had available. I screwed up, gotten myself trapped and surrounded, and there was no escape. This sense of dread settled over me when I realized there was nothing I could do. I was going to die in this house and so were the people I had tried to help. And die we did.
The loss of that survivor had a pretty serious impact on how my game played out for some time after that. You see, people get tired after a while. When they're tired their max stamina is reduced. Cardio is rule #1 as we all know, so it behooves you to go home, let that person rest and let someone else take over. Well, with the loss of Marcus I only had one other person left I could use and they weren't nearly as skilled. All of a sudden I found myself back at personnel square one. No, not even square one because square one has two survivors you can use. Square zero. Eventually I was able to overcome that loss by prioritizing finding more people to add to the community. I had to take it real slow and cautious, and use a tired person long after she should have been allowed to rest. I'm curious to know what would have happened if she had also died before I found other survivors. I assume that without any playable survivors it's game over.
This is already much longer than I had intended it to be, but I have to mention the game world itself before I wrap it up. First of all it's massive at 16 square kilometers if I remember right. I played for most of the weekend, let's say around 12 hours, and I've only really thoroughly explored the first town you get to. By thoroughly explored I mean while on foot. I've explored more of the world than that from a vehicle though, just to get a sense of what else is around, and it's beautiful. It won't win any technical graphics awards or anything, but it looks fine. It's beautiful in that they've created a well realized, totally convincing post-apocalyptic setting. People put up a fight, people fled, there was chaos happening everywhere, and it shows. I looks exactly like you'd expect after watching a show like The Walking Dead.
It's not just big, it's dense too. Every home, storage shed, business, barn, etc. can be entered and combed through for resources like food, medicine, and ammunition. I found a trailer park where I couldn't enter any of the homes, but that's been the exception to the rule so far. Once in a while you'll come across other groups of survivors. They're trying to survive just like you are so if you can help them out and build some trust between you they'll allow you access to their stash of food or ammo or whatever it is they've been able to scrounge together. I assume you could also just kill them and take their shit if you wanted, but I haven't tried and can't say for sure.
Like I said, this turned out longer than I expected so I'll end it here. I suppose it's a testament to the game itself that I felt the need to share my first impressions of it. I know it's been a popular seller and that's awesome, but it still makes me kind of sad to see there's only ten posts here with the most recent reply from a month ago. It's a good game people, check it out!